‘Portraits in Porcelain’ was the category name given by Cybis to their limited edition full-figure studies of characters from history, literature and the performing arts. These covered a wide range of subjects and sometimes more than a bit of artistic license was used in the portrayals, but a number of the Portraits can be counted among the studio’s best work. This retrospective covers the historical personages. Sculptures are listed below in chronological order based on the birth dates of the actual people portrayed. They range from approximately 1350 B.C. (18th Dynasty Egypt) to the early 1800s (Regency England).
There were two Cybis sculptures of Nefertiti, Great Royal Wife of the 18th Dynasty (ca. mid-1300s BC) Pharaoh Akhenaten (originally named Amonhotep IV) who is regarded as the first monotheist in history. Their first portrait was this seated figure, introduced in 1979 with an issue price of $2100; by 1982 she was $2875. It is 12” high and was an edition of 500 that was either closed or completed before 1988.
Although most examples of Nefertiti have the bronze skin tone shown in the first group of photos, a small number — possibly the earliest ones — are this lighter shade that is typical of Cybis portraits. The official Cybis catalog photo is inconclusive because of the overall reddish shading of the image but that one does tend more toward the paler skin shown here, lending credence to the theory that the skin tone was darkened during the production run.
The Nefertiti Bust, similar in size to those of Mark Antony and Cleopatra illustrated below, was the second study. Both Nefertiti studies wear a crown that is a very close, but not exact, copy of the one worn by the iconic ancient bust discovered at Tell-el-Amarna in 1912; of the two Cybis versions, the one worn by the 1979 sculpture is the more accurate. This bust is 8” tall and was a limited edition of 1000 in 1990 at $575; it is on a 1993 price list for $750.
There are several interesting things about this bust. One is that unlike the normal in-mold copyright date, this one says “1989/90” which is not a valid format for a copyright year; copyrights are registered on actual specific dates, not year ranges. This bust isn’t in either of the two 1989 Cybis brochures that I have, so it was probably a 1990 release. Another anomaly is that the sculpture number was not in its normal location adjacent to the signature and mold marks, but was instead put onto the underside of the piece. I have no idea if they are all numbered that way.
The designer of this bust did do some research, as evidenced by the design on the front of the base: The central motif is of the sun god Aten with its rays extending downward. Nefertiti and Akhenaten founded a religion based on the Aten, so this is historically accurate.
However, the royal cartouches flanking the Aten symbol aren’t those of either Nefertiti or her husband. Queen Nefertiti’s actual cartouche is shown above.
The Cleopatra Bust is 9” tall, in an edition of 1000 from 1989 at $575; some of these will have the special 50th Anniversary backstamp. On the 1993 price list she is the same price as the Nefertiti bust ($750.) This is the only representation of Cleopatra ever done by Cybis and in this study she wears the Hathor Crown. Unfortunately, their Queen of Sheba sculpture (shown in Literary Characters) is sometimes mis-identified by sellers as being Cleopatra.
Mark Antony Bust, 8.75” tall, another limited edition of 1000 from 1989, and described as the companion bust to Cleopatra (the two sculptures were sold and priced separately). He was originally priced at $475 and remained below the $600 level throughout the 1990s. In 1993 Cybis offered the pair of Cleopatra and Mark Antony busts for a discounted price of $1075; that option disappeared shortly after.
Of course this is Lady Godiva, a limited edition of only 200 in 1982 and 13” high. The edition sold out before 1988. The entire sculpture was designed by Lynn Klockner Brown. The first photograph is the normal coloration of the retail edition; the second photo shows a one of a kind artist’s proof in shades of brown.
This artist’s proof is very similar to the production version but does have some differences, particularly in the horse’s trappings which are gold here but mostly silver grey in the retail piece. There is more contrast between the blue and pink tones, Lady Godiva’s hair is a lighter blonde, and there is a lace ribbon that is longer than the other versions.
She does represent an actual personage although her name at the time (ca. 1015–1050) was rendered as “Godgifu”. She was the wife of Leofric, the Lord of Coventry, and was one of very few female landowners in her own right during that time. The tale of her clothes-free ride, however, is almost certainly apocryphal and does not appear in any records until about a hundred years later.
Eleanor of Aquitaine is 13” tall and was an edition of 750 in 1971 for $875, completed in 1975 at $925. This sculpture was commissioned by AVCO Embassy Pictures in 1969 to honor Katherine Hepburn’s role as Henry II’s influential queen (1122-1204) in their 1968 movie ‘The Lion in Winter.’ She is one of only two sculptures Cybis ever created of living people, the other being a bust of Pope John Paul II.
There are two very slightly different versions of Eleanor: in some examples she wears only one ring (the large ornate one on her left hand) and in the other version – shown above – she wears two rings (an additional wide plain ring on her right.) The official Cybis photo seen in their 1979 catalog shows the two-ring version. The difference doesn’t seem connected to the sculpture numbers, because a casual survey of sold Eleanors doesn’t show any pattern. For example, numbers 231, 252 and 391 all have one ring while numbers 199, 200 and 249 were made with two rings. Was the righthand ring an actual item that was added to that finger, or was it part of the mold for some castings but not others? And why? It has also been noticed that on some Eleanors the gilt edge of her robe has an embossed pattern but on others that surface is plain.
Here is Richard the Lionheart (Richard I, aka Richard Cœur de Lion.) Son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, he ruled England for only ten years (1189-1199), most of which time he spent on crusade, and died in his mother’s arms, in France, at the age of forty-one. Cybis’ portrait is 15” tall, released as an edition of 350 in 1982; he sold for $2750 by 1988 and was $3875 on the studio’s 1993 price list.
Berengaria, daughter of the King of Navarre and wife of Richard I, literally never set foot in England as its queen and may never have done so in her life at all. She was married to Richard on the island of Cyprus while he was on crusade (as usual!) and was crowned there. This sculpture of her is 15” tall and was an edition of 500 introduced in 1979 (prior to Richard) for $1450, and completed in 1981. Her headdress, hands, and falcon were sculpted by Lynn Klockner Brown. The correct name for this piece is just Berengaria, not “Queen Berengaria” as is seen in some online listings. By the way, if you look closely at the sculptures of Berengaria and her mother-in-law Eleanor of Aquitaine, you will see that they share something in common: Cybis used the same lower body (torso/undergown/robe) mold for both!
Hopping across The Pond for a moment, we have Priscilla who is 14” tall and issued as a declared edition of 500 in 1976, America’s Bicenenntial year, at $825 and completed in 1982 at $1125. Born Priscilla Mullins in England in 1602, she traveled on the Mayflower in 1620. Her entire family perished during the first winter in the New World. Her marriage to John Alden was the third to take place in Plymouth Colony; she died in 1685.
Another early American study, First Born, Virgina Dare can be seen in Five Cybis for Mothers’ Day; however, that piece was not considered by Cybis to be one of their “Portraits in Porcelain.”
Good Queen Anne (1665-1714) was the daughter of James II of England and queen in her own right from 1702-1714. Cybis’s Anne is 14” high; she was a delcared edition of 750 in 1978 for $975, but the edition size was reduced first to 500 and then to 350 before closing in 1982 at $1250. A different English queen, Anne of Bohemia – wife to Richard II during the 1200s – was also popularly known as “good queen Anne”’ because she would often intercede with the king on behalf of the welfare of the peasantry.
Some Annes have a pair of small ‘firing holes’ at the top of her bustle in addition to the normal ones on the piece’s underside. Sculptures lacking these holes may instead have a gap elsewhere in the upper body section. Normally one only finds firing holes on the underside of a piece and so the presence of these extra “outlets” may have been necessary in order to avoid losses in the kiln. One would think that these holes, if needed during the bisque firing, would have been patched before painting; perhaps some were but others were missed? Or perhaps the problem occurred during the paint firings.
The next three sculptures depict American historical personages.
Abigail Adams, (1744-1818) wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams. Designed by Lynn Klockner Brown, Abigail is shown writing one of the more than 1000 letters sent between herself and her husband during their 40+ years of correspondence. This sculpture is 10” tall and was a declared edition of 750 that was later reduced to only 600. Like Priscilla she was introduced during the Bicentennial year of 1976. Initially priced at $875, the edition was closed in 1981 at $1125. An interesting info-bit about this sculpture is that it was originally intended to be Betsy Ross but at the last minute a decision was apparantly made to substitute papers and pen for the flag and needle!
In July 1976 the Asbury Park Press reported that NJ Governor Brendan Byrne presented an Abigail Adams to Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her visit. According to the article
The sculpture was specially mounted on a wood base with a brass plaque bearing the following inscription: ‘To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh On the occasion of their visit to New Jersey during the American Revolution Bicentennial. Governor and Mrs. Brendan T. Byrne extend their greetings.’ The choice of a portrait sculpture of Abigail Adams was also appropriate to the occasion: Abigail was the wife of John Adams who served as first ambassador to the Court of St. James from 1785-1788.
Unlike the others illustrated here, the George Washington (1732-1799) bust was an open edition. It is 13” high on base. This was commissioned by the Bicentennial Council of the Thirteen Original States, whose logo appears on the medallion attached to the base. Made only in white bisque as shown, it was made for five years (1975-1980); its price went from $175 to $275 during that period. Sculpted by William Pae.
Introduced in 1987 to commemorate the bicentennial of the United States Constitution, Mr. President shows George Washington holding a porcelain scroll on which is incised December 15, 1791 The Bill of Rights, first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The base on which he stands, showing the first 13 states, is also used for the base of Cybis’ Noble Eagle sculpture. This sculpture is 17” tall and had a declared limited edition of 500. Its original issue price of $1,987 was the same as its introduction year, but rose to $2075 in 1988; the edition was closed before 1993.
And finally, back to England for this portrait of the famous dandy Beau Brummel standing 15″ tall. This sculpture was offered at an auction in 2007, at which time it was mis-identified as being George Washington! Well, that’s completely incorrect because everything about the piece — from hairstyle to every single item of clothing — absolutely screams English Regency Period, which was from 1811 to 1820. George Washington wouldn’t have been caught dead looking like this…. literally, because our first President died in 1799 at the age of 67. That said, this sculpture is a bit of an oddity because stylistically it looks like a 1960s-1970s piece and in fact his hands are actually cast from Ophelia‘s molds (1969-1974)! He is also one of only two Cybis studies that includes a plinth; the other accompanies the 1970s Enamored Prince Florimund seen in the Ballet post, although it is not the exact same plinth.
Update: What appears to be the very same sculpture as the example shown above resurfaced in a January 2019 auction, again wrongly identified as George Washington but this time accompanied by a photo of the signature area showing an A.P. (artist’s proof) designation and a copyright year of 1982. However, he does not appear in the 1982 or 1986 Cybis catalogs nor is he on their 1988, 1993, 1995 or 1999 retail price lists. It is possible that he was produced sometime between 1983 and 1987 but without price lists from any of those years it’s impossible to know if he was produced for retail at all. Should anyone have any Cybis literature from the 1980s showing or naming this piece, it would be much appreciated; there is a direct-contact form at the bottom of the About the Cybis Archive page.
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